My question is: what is a method (step-by-step recipe) in catholic moral theology? Optatam totius 16 provides the following guidelines for the dogmatic theology:

  • Biblical topics
  • Patristic reflections
  • Further evaluation of the topic
  • Speculation with Thomas Aquinas
  • Presence of mysteries in liturgy and life of church
  • Solution of people's problems
  • Adequate communication of results

For the moral theology, there is no list like that. We only read:

Likewise let the other theological disciplines be renewed through a more living contact with the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation. Special care must be given to the perfecting of moral theology. Its scientific exposition, nourished more on the teaching of the Bible, should shed light on the loftiness of the calling of the faithful in Christ and the obligation that is theirs of bearing fruit in charity for the life of the world.

I guess that there might be several alternative methods in moral theology to study a specific phenomenon. Perhaps, they might differ for studying a specific situation (e.g. what is a just reward for a specific work) and for analysis of abstract topics (e.g. to what extend is Reiki acceptable for catholics).

The accepted answer will provide a step-by-step way how to work in catholic moral theology, possibly justified and linked to some relevant documents.

Thank you for your help.

  • 1
    Perhaps because the Church has yet to dogmatically settle the question of probabilism vs. probabiliorism vs. aequiprobabilism etc.
    – Geremia
    Apr 25, 2015 at 18:56
  • This relates to the moral criterion rather than to a step by step methodology. One step of that methodology would be: apply the moral criterion. However, what are the others? Apr 28, 2015 at 21:20

2 Answers 2


Teaching Catechism to 12-15 year olds for the last ten years has ingrained in me the Moral Decision Making Framework, which might be a little... Non-academic for the tone of this question, but it seems relevant to me. You can see it applied in the Just War theory. It boils down to his three things.

  1. Circumstances
  2. Object
  3. Means

In consideration of some potentially sinful action you can judge the gravity of the sin (i.e. guilt) by considering those three things.

If i were to kill someone and the circumstances were that they were trying to kill me, i might be less guilty; if i were to kill someone i ran over accidentally, i might be less guilty because my object wasn't their death; and if i were to kill someone who was trying to kill me by rolling them over with a steam roller then i might be more guilty because those means are a tad excessive.

Most of this is spelled out and rooted in scripture in the Faith and Life series Our Life in the Church" the moral decision making framework is what the Bishops (around here at least) are having us teach as part of the settlement with the abuse victims.


The issue of Morality is associated and similar to the existence of evil. Evil Changes and adapts in creation, the more we try to fight it, the more resourceful that evil (lack of morality) becomes. It is ever changing and ever challenging to the Church of God as it faces Modernism in the Catholic Church especially.

The link for The Church’s full explanation of Moral Theology is here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14601a.htm

There is a method outlined in the article by: Saint Alphonsus Liguouri’s scategory “Thoologia Moralis”


The church in its wisdom however does not limit itself to those teachings, they know that more can and surely will be made known to it as evil adapts and changes in the world we live in.

If the Church were to pinpoint a method that would face the issues of morality, it would quickly fail in it's efforts. The evil it faces, continually throughout the Tribulations period we are in, manefests new properties that have not been previously encountered. This is why we have a living Authority rather than relaying on simply the written scriptures alone with its modernized method of the Authority being anyone who can read it. The Catholic Church recognized and established Scripture, A non-living book, containing the word of God and even more so, the very Words of God. These scriputures, unable to interpret itself without proper discipleship, will lead to heresy and choosing options in moral theology that are based on the opinions of unlearned shepherds rather than the authoritative church given the responsibility by Christ himself through his apostles.

  • I have been unable to find an English Translation of “Theologia Moralis” I will continue searching and editin a link. I will also search for the compendium, mentioned and add that. this is what is referred to in the above article as the recapitulation of Alphonsus’s work.
    – Marc
    Apr 30, 2015 at 15:56
  • Marc, thank you for your effort. I like the point that it is dangerous to fix even the method in moral theology since it can be used by the enemy. However, I am not 100% happy about it. I assume that there are many catholic moral theologians and their work has to be somehow structured. May 8, 2015 at 17:03

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